Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Sen. Kanno's parting shot helped unions

By David Shapiro

Sen. Brian Kanno left behind some parting gifts for his friends in the public worker unions before announcing his retirement from the Legislature.

Late in this year's session, Kanno blocked Gov. Linda Lingle's nomination of attorney Paul Au to the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board, preventing the Republican governor from fully putting her imprint on the panel that settles disputes between the state and counties and their employees.

Kanno also helped lead a second attempt by lawmakers to reverse a state Supreme Court ruling upholding state and county rights to transfer employees without negotiating with unions.

The Leeward Democrat, who chaired the Labor Committee, was the unions' most reliable ally during his 14 years in the Senate.

He said he wouldn't seek re-election after the Ethics Commission opened an investigation into his pressure on a cruise line to rehire an employee fired for alleged sexual harassment.

The three-member Labor Relations Board often tilts so heavily toward unions that former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris called the panel a "rubber stamp."

Kanno pushed legislation last year that would have extended the terms of former Gov. Ben Cayetano's appointees from six to 10 years — preventing Lingle from ever making an appointment to the Labor Board even if she was elected to a second term.

The bill died in conference, leaving the Senate little choice but to confirm Lingle's nomination last year of Emory Springer from the State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers —one of the few unions to endorse her— to replace Chester Kunitake from the Hawai'i Government Employees Association as the labor representative on the board.

This year, the Senate also confirmed Lingle's appointment of Sarah Hirakami, a Honolulu Board of Water Supply attorney, as the management representative.

But Kanno's Labor Committee rejected Au as the public representative — the key swing vote between labor and management and automatically the chairman of the Labor Board.

The committee found Au unacceptable because he had represented management in cases as deputy Honolulu corporation counsel.

He was opposed by the HGEA, United Public Workers, Hawai'i State Teachers Association and University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly.

By law, incumbent Brian Nakamura, a former Cayetano chief of staff, stays in the $75,000-a-year job until a replacement is confirmed.

Thus, the Senate's rejection of Au keeps the chairmanship in Democratic hands through the remainder of Lingle's first term — and possibly beyond if senators continue to turn down her nominees.

The Supreme Court decision on employee transfers stemmed from a 2001 Labor Board ruling against the City and County of Honolulu.

The city's switch to automated refuse trucks that year resulted in too many workers in Pearl City and not enough in Honolulu.

The Labor Board held that the city could not transfer employees to balance the workload without negotiating with the UPW, effectively leaving workers in Pearl City with nothing to do.

The Supreme Court reversed the Labor Board, saying management had a legal right to reassign employees to meet changing needs.

The unions turned to Kanno, nephew of UPW attorney Herbert Takahashi, who pushed through a bill last year to overturn the Supreme Court and require negotiations on employee transfers.

Lingle vetoed it and the House lacked the votes to override.

Legislative Democrats quietly passed a similar bill this year— and Lingle has again put it on her veto list.

House and Senate leaders have shown little enthusiasm for a special session to override any of Lingle's vetoes in a election year, but expect the unions to lobby hard to bring lawmakers back for what might be their last chance to pass this bill.

David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net.